A hemp farm in Asheville. North Carolina legalized industrial hemp for licensed growers in 2016, but a NC House candidate says the state could raise millions by revenue by legalizing production and consumption of all cannabis plants, including marijuana. (Image via Shutterstock) North Carolina Hemp Farm
A hemp farm in Asheville. North Carolina legalized industrial hemp for licensed growers in 2016, but a NC House candidate says the state could raise millions by revenue by legalizing production and consumption of all cannabis plants, including marijuana. (Image via Shutterstock)

What North Carolina, an agricultural powerhouse with major budget needs, stands to gain by making marijuana legal.

I grew up in the mountains and came from a farming family that grew tobacco and raised beef cows. My dad used to help bail hay and cut tobacco when he was growing up. 

From those roots I grew up in the country and was raised on country values and a deep abiding respect of the land. And with agriculture currently employing 17% of our state’s workforce and contributing $87 billion to our state’s economy, it’s clear that our farming roots, sprouted centuries ago, are still firmly planted. 

But our farmers are facing challenges that past generations never had to consider. Climate change is causing more extreme swings in weather conditions year-to-year, and the natural balance farmers use to plan their harvests is becoming increasingly unpredictable. Last year’s dryness and heat follow a trend of longer and more intense heat waves; the previous year was North Carolina’s wettest on record.

On top of this, the number of farms in North Carolina has been declining for years, and a minority of farms report consistent growth. Ninety-seven percent of Person county’s farms were family owned as of 2017, and only 31% hired farm labor; in Granville county, 96% were family-owned and 25% hired labor. This means that in our district, small, family farms are the most at risk.

I believe in empowering our farmers and generating economic opportunity for those in our district. 

That is why I’m in favor of legalizing the production, processing, and consumption of cannabis in North Carolina. In addition to driving economic growth, legalizing cannabis can generate valuable tax revenue and offer better healthcare options for North Carolinians.

[Editor’s Note: Cannabis refers to the genus of plants that includes hemp and marijuana plants.]

In 2016, our state began allowing licensed growers to produce industrial hemp, a cannabis strain with under 0.3% THC (the psychoactive compound in marijuana), and the 2018 Federal Farm Bill legalized the production and transportation of hemp and hemp products

We have an opportunity to invest in cannabis production and enjoy the plant’s benefits for other crops: Recent studies have noted that hemp is highly effective at remediating land polluted by heavy metals and requires few pesticides. 

It has also been shown to improve yields for wheat and soybeans, which together accounted for approximately 23,000 acres of Person and Granville harvested land in 2018

In 2017, the medical cannabis market in the United States alone was worth $3.5 billion, with a projected value in 2025 of $13.2 billion. This is without considering the potential revenue available right here in North Carolina. Other states have seen massive benefits from broadly legalizing cannabis use, with Colorado passing $1 billion in cannabis state revenue last year, just five years after legalization. 

In fiscal year 2017-2018, Colorado directed its $67.8 million in cannabis tax revenue toward schools, while Washington used most of its $314.8 million tax revenue on Medicaid. Expanding the production and consumption of cannabis in our state would provide sustained economic opportunity for our growers and distributors, as well as tax revenue to support vital government programs.

And public programs aren’t even the most direct way cannabis can improve the health of North Carolinians. 

Medical cannabis has a range of uses, including pain control, nausea management, and muscle relaxation. It has been a godsend for people with cancer, multiple sclerosis, chronic pain, and a number of other conditions. Medical cannabis is also safer and less addictive than opiates, which caused 1,718 unintentional overdose deaths in North Carolina in 2018

Having dedicated my entire professional life to healthcare, I believe that North Carolinians deserve a full range of safe and effective treatment options.

When the Great Depression hit, many farmers shifted away from cash crops and toward growing food crops for their families. In recent decades, many farmers have transitioned from growing tobacco, the state’s most popular crop, and now we’re a top 10 producer in 19 commodities

The time has come again for North Carolinians to adapt to challenging times. Few options offer the benefits of growing, processing, and consuming our own cannabis, and as a member of your state legislature, I will make it my mission to promote policies that will improve the financial and physical well-being of the people of North Carolina.